D-Day: In the words of the BBC journalists (text version)
- 6 June 2014
- From the section Magazine
Seventy years ago today, the biggest military operation in history took place, as thousands of Allied troops landed on the French coast. Below are extracts from the BBC's reports of D-Day.
To read photographs of his original typed notes click here.
"This is Richard Dimbleby speaking..."
The first part of D-Day involved the dropping of 24,000 British, Canadian and US troops behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France, shortly after midnight. In this clip, and in the script below, Richard Dimbleby, the BBC's war correspondent and one of its most famous journalist, witnesses the very first aircraft take off from southern England on the night of 5 June 1944.
"This is Richard Dimbleby speaking from an aerodrome in England on the night of June 5th, and reporting the fact that the first aircraft carrying the first parachutists who are going to land on the fortress of Europe in the beginning of our great attack tomorrow morning, are taking off from this air station at this moment quite fast.
NOISE OF PLANES
Eight machines have gone - a ninth - the tenth - the eleventh - the twelfth - and up to something like a score are coming round the aerodrome, one after the other.
NOISE OF PLANES
Each machine with its load of paratroops - one machine with a colleague of mine of the BBC flying with them and jumping with them - and each machine following the other showing its green wing-tip light as it comes down the perimeter track and then turns into the wind at the end of the perimeter past the flares, past the group of senior officers standing there watching every machine go -
NOISE OF PLANES
- dead on time, departing almost to a split second on the right time on a plan which they'd been working and sweating and slaving at for months. The sky now is full of the noise of these paratroop planes as they circle the aerodrome before they take their course. But just as they're circling in the air, so the others that are waiting to go are circling the track at the aerodrome, their lights moving round in a stately, steady procession. Aboard them are some of the toughest and finest and bravest men that we have in Britain, and they go out today to face their greatest trial.
NOISE OF PLANES
"This was the first combat jump for every one of them":
BBC war correspondent Robert Barr was one of four correspondents who trailed General Eisenhower from D-Day until the end of World War 2. Here, he records the anticipation as paratroopers prepare to board a Douglas C-47 destined for France.
Their faces were darkened with cocoa; sheathed knives were strapped to their ankles; tommy guns strapped to their waists; bandoliers and hand grenades, coils of rope, pick handles, spades, rubber dinghies hung around them, and a few personal oddments, like the lad who was taking a newspaper to read on the plane.
I watched them march in a long, snaking, double line, almost a mile long to draw their parachutes. Later I saw them gathered around their aircraft C.47's and making final adjustments to their kit, before they started. There was an easy familiar touch about the way they were getting ready, as though they had done it often before. Well, yes, they had kitted up and climbed aboard often just like this - twenty, thirty, forty times some of them, but it had never been quite like this before. This was the first combat jump for everyone of them.
"The next time our feet touch dry land it will be on the soil of Europe"
Allied infantry started to land on the Normandy coast at 06:30. At 08:00, the BBC announced that "a new phase of the Allied Air Initiative has begun". At midday, the radio announcer John Snagge announced that "D-Day has come".
The dispatch below, filed by Robert Dunner from an American headquarters ship, describes the atmosphere as troops waited to land in France.
We are in the ships. The next time our feet touch dry land it will be on the soil of Europe. For the moment we all exist in a peculiar secret world of our own - England behind, yet visible, and a certain beach on the continent as yet undisturbed by the thunder of our attack.
This feeling of being people apart prevails among all the thousands of men now assembled and ready to go. But there is a feeling of relief, too, that at long last we are off. That this is the real thing.
"There was a loud explosion"
The invasion of Normandy was the largest amphibious assault ever launched. It involved five army divisions in the initial assault and over 7,000 ships. In addition there were 11,000 aircraft. Colin Wills paints the scene from above, in a plane flying over the English channel. Below, the veteran BBC reporter Howard Marshall describes the moment when the Allied troops landed on the beaches.
As we drove in we could see shell burst in the water along the beach, and just behind the beach, and we could see craft in a certain amount of difficulty because the wind was driving the sea in with long rollers and the enemy had prepared anti-invasion, anti-barge obstacles sticking out from the water - formidable prongs, many of them tipped with mines, so that as your landing barge swung and swayed in the rollers, and they're not particularly manageable craft, it would come into contact with one of these mines and be sunk. That was the prospect which faced us on this very lowering and difficult morning as we drove into the beach. I tell you this, as I say, because it was the experience of so many other men at just this same time.
We drove into the beach, as rather broadside on in the wind and the waves, seeing the jets of smoke from bursting shells near us in the water and slightly further away on the beach itself. And suddenly as we tried to get between two of these tripart defence systems of the Germans, our craft swung, we touched a mine, there was a very loud explosion, a thundering shudder of the whole craft and water began pouring in.
Well, we were some out from the beach at that point.
the ramp was lowered at once and out of the barge drove the bren gun carrier into about five foot of water, with the barge settling heavily in the meanwhile. Well the bren gun carrier somehow managed to get through it, and we followed wading, ashore. That was one quite typical instance of how people got ashore, and when they got ashore, seemed to be in perfectly good order because the troops out of that barge immediately assembled and went to their appointed places and there was no semblance of any kind of confusion. But the scene on the beach until one had sorted it out was at first rather depressing because we did see a great many barges in difficulties with those anti-tank screens, and we noticed that a number of them had struck mines, as ours had struck mines.
What was D-Day?
On 6 June, 1944, British, US and Canadian forces invaded the coast of northern France at Normandy.
The landings were the first stage of Operation Overlord - the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, and were intended to bring World War Two to an end.
The invasion of Normandy was the largest amphibious assault ever launched. Over 150,000 troops landed on D-Day.
By the end of D-Day, the allies had established a foothold in France. Within 11 months Nazi Germany was defeated.
"When it comes, it sure comes."
In this clip, Alan Melville reports from the Normandy beach-head as Allied paratroops were dropped in to provide support.
In the script below, American reporter Tom Traynor describes the situation as infantry troops tried to make it off the beach and avoid German shelling.
The German shelling continued steadily at various points up and down the beach, but so far not reached the area in which I was walking. It would work over an area, then move on to another. It was accurate, landing of the most part close to the water's edge, and I saw one small landing craft catch fire after taking a hit. Men came spilling out of it into water waist deep.
From time to time there were huge concussions as the engineers set off demolitions; the ground would shake, and the troops would throw themselves violently on the ground. I climbed a rock embankment and came to a piece of flat land where hundreds of men were digging slit trenches. When they got down about a foot and a half they struck water. Some of them were lying in the water, and I asked if there were much much shelling. "There is when there is" one man said, "right now there isn't, but when it comes it sure comes." I asked him what German fortifications he could point out. He showed me some tunnels at the top of the palisade; the palisade rises above the beach along this stretch of coast.
"The new battle of Europe"
Richard Dimbleby takes up the story once more, this time towards the end of D-Day, from within France. British and Canadian troops had managed to take three of the five beaches - Juno, Gold and Sword - without heavy casualties, and pressed on towards the town of Caen (although it would be more than a month before they took it).
(Transcribed from a telephone recording) 'The Battle Situation in France' (Uncensored)
Tuesday, 6th June 1944 4.15 pm
The British, Canadian and American troops who landed on the coast of France north of the lovely town of Caen in broad daylight this morning, are already several miles inland, on a front sufficiently broad to be more than a bridge-head. They're pushing steadily on backed by the tremendous fire-power of heavy British and United States warships, and covered by an ever changing - but ever present - umbrella of fighters. The first phase of the great operation began about midnight last nigh, when a force of parachutists and glider troops, some of which I saw taking off in the dying light of yesterday, landed on the eastern side of the chosen area to secure that flank. Today, the gliders and some of the discarded parachutes lie like crimpled flowers in the wet, wooded countryside north-east of Caen. Evidence enough that our air-borne troops have successfully completed this, the first of their operations in the new battle of Europe.
"The King has broadcast a national call to prayer"
By the end of the day it was clear that D-Day had been a success, even though there had been 3,000 fatalities on the Allied side - mostly airborne troops, and those who landed at Omaha beach, where US infantry was hit by heavy German fire. This was how Frank Phillips announced the news on the BBC Home Service bulletin at midnight.
Earlier this evening in a statement to the Commons, Mr Churchill reported that in some places we'd driven several miles into France. He said fighting was going on in the town of Caen between Cherbourg and Havre. Six-hundred-and-forty guns of the Allied navies have bombarded the German coast defences in support of our troops. Our great airborne landings - the biggest in history - have been carried out with very little loss. On the beaches opposition was less than expected but heavy fighting still lies ahead. All through the night and today air support has been on a vast scale. Thirty-one thousand Allied airmen have been over France during the day alone.
The King has broadcast a national call to prayer.
Assembled by Ben Milne and Vanessa Barford
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